SOTY 2014: Expressing how to change the world through art and performance

By Melanie Leung

A dozen finalists came to compete for the Student of the Year - Performing Artist award, and they all brought their best to the stage

By Melanie Leung |

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Ballerina Ho Lai-kiu found it difficult to incorporate the theme, "make a difference; be the chance", into her performance.

There was a flood of talent at the final judging of the Student of the Year - Performing Artist award. Twelve young artists made it to the final round of this competition, and on January 21, they gathered to show how they can "Make a difference; be the change" with their skills.

Performing with amazing technicality were a harpist, a cellist, a violinist who incorporated poetry into his performance, singers and several dancers. They had about 10 minutes to complete their act in front of a panel of judges and explain how it relates to the theme.

Emi Kingan, 15, who attends the Canadian International School of Hong Kong, choreographed an Irish dance combined with contemporary dance styles and ballet. It was an innovative attempt because Irish dancing requires a rigid upper body, while ballet has a lot of graceful arm movements.

Her routine told her own story as a dancer, how she dealt with obstacles and struggled to find inspiration. For Emi, the hardest part was incorporating the theme into her performance. "I do drama in school but I have never tried to communicate a strong message with my dance."

Emi began learning Irish dancing after seeing Riverdance five years ago. "Irish dance is challenging, and teamwork is important," she says. "You have to be very precise. Figuring out what to do when you make a mistake sharpens your problem-solving skills."

While Emi used her body to convey her message, Kessay Chan Kwan-ming, 15, from Yuen Long Lutheran Secondary School, did so with his voice. He has been doing a capella for four years now, and hopes to study music at a local university, but this was the first time he did a solo performance. He pulled it off using a looper, recording his voice and playing it back while adding harmonies and beatboxing. Kessay explained that he wants to make a capella known to the world, so he arranges a capella versions of Canto-pop songs so they will be easier for local students to sing.

A Form Five student, Kessay has to manage his time well. "I'm in the middle of exams and I have to balance my time between my academic activities and a capella," he says. "To calm myself, I imagine my buddies are around me."

The judges were impressed by the creativity and technical skills shown by the contestants. "They surprised me with their choice of repertoire and how they structured their programme," says Linda Yip, programme manager for the Hong Kong Arts Festival Society. "The students were creative and confident on stage, and are devoted to using their talents to contribute to society. These are the kind of people we need in our society!"

Adrian Walter, director of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, says parents and teachers play an important role in nurturing such brilliant talent.

Being a good performer is one thing, but for their message to spread effectively, they also need to be good communicators. Karly Cox, deputy editor of Young Post, says some students struggled to talk about the theme.

"They are so passionate about their performing art, maybe they haven't nailed down how they can use their skills to make a difference," she says. "Some [contestants] have a vague idea of what they want to do, while others have concrete plans."